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Frary v. County of Marin

United States District Court, N.D. California

February 10, 2015

LYNNETTE FRARY, et al., Plaintiffs,
COUNTY OF MARIN, et al., Defendants.


MARIA-ELENA JAMES, Magistrate Judge.


Plaintiff Jamie Ball, Guardian ad Litem of Amaya Carmignani ("the Minor"), petitions this Court for an order approving her compromise of her minor daughter's claim against the City of Novato and its employees (the "City Defendants") for injuries allegedly sustained by Amaya's late father, Anthony Carmignani. Dkt. No. 174 ("Petition"). The Court held a hearing on this matter on February 5, 2015. Having considered the parties' positions, the relevant legal authorities, and the record in this case, the Court hereby APPROVES the compromise of the Minor's claim against the City Defendants for the reasons stated below.


Anthony Carmignani died of a drug overdose while in the custody at the Marin County Jail. Dkt. No. 52, Second Am. Compl. ¶ 29. The day before, Novato Police Department Officer Thomas MacKenzie had arrested Carmignani after another Novato Police Officer, Michael Dunn, investigated a report of a domestic dispute between Anthony and his wife, Plaintiff Heather Howard. Id. ¶¶ 32-38. Officer MacKenzie transferred Carmignani to the custody of Officer Dunn, who transported Carmignani to the Marin County Jail. Id. ¶¶ 39-40, 49. The Complaint alleges that both Officers Dunn and MacKenzie failed to adequately search Carmignani for narcotics, which Howard had told Officer Dunn were in Carmignani's possession. Id. ¶¶ 37, 42-44. The Complaint also alleges that Officer Dunn (1) failed to monitor Carmignani's actions in the police vehicle; and (2) failed to inform the Marin County Jail nurses or other intake personal about Carmignani's unusual behavior in the police vehicle, which may have been indicative of a medical condition. Id. ¶ 50.

Later that night, another Novato Police Officer, Stephanie Commisto, served Carmignani with papers at the jail. Id. ¶ 63. The Complaint alleges that Carmignani's mother, Plaintiff Lynette Frary, had warned Officer Commisto that Carmignani had taken a large number of narcotics from her home and her concerns that Carmignani had ingested a number of those pills. Id. ¶¶ 64-68. It also asserts that Officer Commisto promised to convey Frary's concerns and the information about the narcotics to the deputies at the Marin County Jail; however, Officer Commisto allegedly did not convey this information. Id. ¶¶ 69-70. The Complaint alleges that Officer Commisto's conversation with Carmignani was the last time he was seen conscious or moving in his cell. Id. ¶ 71.

Plaintiffs brought suit on July 26, 2012 against the individual Police Officers for violations of Carmignani's constitutional rights as well as negligence claims. Dkt. No. 1; see also Second Am. Compl. Plaintiffs further alleged that the Officers' acts and omissions were the product of inadequate training and supervision by Defendants Chief Joseph Kreins and the City of Novato, and that all of the actions constituted both negligence and deliberate indifference to Carmignani's health and safety. Second Am. Compl. at 16-27. Plaintiffs also sued the Marin County Jail and various jail staff (the "County Defendants"). Id. ¶¶ 20-21.

On April 23, 2014, the City Defendants and Plaintiffs attended a mediation conducted by the Honorable Alfred Chiantelli (Ret.) and entered into a settlement for a lump sum of $195, 000 for all Plaintiffs, on the condition that the City Defendants obtain City Council approval and upon Plaintiff Jamie Ball obtaining an order compromising the claim of her minor daughter. Dkt. No. 179 (City Defendants' Statement of Non-Opposition); see also Petition ¶ 7. The City Defendants obtained City Council approval, but the filing of a motion to compromise the minor's claim was delayed for several months, in part due a dispute between the Plaintiffs as to how to allocate the proceeds of the settlement.

On October 2, 2014, Plaintiff Ball brought a motion for the Court to approve a compromise of the claim of her minor daughter, proposing to allocate a net recovery of $73, 844.38 to Amaya. Dkt. No. 109. The Court originally heard argument on that motion on December 18, 2014. Dkt. No. 171. Following the hearing, Plaintiffs' counsel informed the Court that they would file an amended petition to approve the minor compromise. Dkt. No. 173. On January 1, 2015, Plaintiff Ball filed that amended petition. Dkt. No. 174. The City Defendants filed a statement of non-opposition to the Petition. Dkt. No. 179. The County Defendants filed an objection. See Dkt. No. 176 (County Defendants' Objections) and Dkt. No. 177 (Proposed Order). The Court heard argument on the amended petition on February 5, 2014. Dkt. No. 187.


A. Legal Standard

"District courts have a special duty, derived from Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17(c), to safeguard the interests of litigants who are minors." Robidoux v. Rosengren, 638 F.3d 1177, 1181 (9th Cir. 2011). "Rule 17(c) provides, in relevant part, that a district court must appoint a guardian ad litem-or issue another appropriate order-to protect a minor or incompetent person who is unrepresented in an action.'" Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 17(c)). "In the context of proposed settlements in suits involving minor plaintiffs, this special duty requires a district court to conduct its own inquiry to determine whether the settlement serves the best interests of the minor.'" Id. (quoting Dacanay v. Mendoza, 573 F.2d 1075, 1080 (9th Cir. 1978)); see also Salmeron v. United States, 724 F.2d 1357, 1363 (9th Cir. 1983) (holding that "a court must independently investigate and evaluate any compromise or settlement of a minor's claims to assure itself that the minor's interests are protected, even if the settlement has been recommended or negotiated by the minor's parent or guardian ad litem"). A district court must consider whether the proposed settlement is fair and reasonable as to each minor plaintiff. Id. at 1182 "[T]he district court should evaluate the fairness of each minor plaintiff's net recovery without regard to the proportion of the total settlement value designated for adult co-plaintiffs or plaintiffs' counsel-whose interests the district court has no special duty to safeguard." Id.

The Robidoux Court, however, expressly limited its holding to a minor's federal claims, noting that it did "not express a view on the proper approach for a federal court to use when sitting in diversity and approving the settlement of a minor's state law claims." Id. at 1179 n.2. Nevertheless, district courts have found the Robidoux rule reasonable in the context of state law claims and have applied the rule to evaluate the propriety of a settlement of a minor's state law claims as well. Mitchell v. Riverstone Residential Grp., 2013 WL 1680641, at *1 (E.D. Cal. Apr. 17, 2013) (collecting cases). As this case implicates both federal and state law claims, the Court applies ...

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